Alaska lawmakers discuss possible punishment for Rep. Eastman over Oath Keepers membership

People stand on marble steps outdoors with flag that says "Alaska for Trump"
Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, on left, at the Grant Memorial, about 200 yards from the West Terrace of the U.S. Capitol. It’s not clear exactly when this photo was taken. He posted this to a public Facebook group called “Alaskans in Washington, DC for January 6, 2021” (Facebook)

Some members of the Alaska Legislature are considering a possible punishment for Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman because of his membership in a far-right paramilitary group, the Oath Keepers, whose leaders have been indicted in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Eastman was in Washington D.C. that day participating in a rally, but there’s no evidence he set foot in the Capitol and he isn’t charged with a crime. But in the wake of the insurrection, an activist group leaked a list of the Oath Keepers’ members, and Eastman’s name was on it.

Now, according to the Anchorage Daily News, Eastman could face consequences for that membership under a disloyalty clause in the Alaska Constitution.

As ADN reporter James Brooks explains, Eastman has refused to answer questions about his connection to the Oath Keepers, and discussions among the mostly Democratic House majority caucus about what to do about it have been happening mostly behind closed doors.

Listen here:

The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

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James Brooks: There’s been no public meetings on it. No public discussions. No speeches on the floor of the House. Instead, what’s happening is members of the coalition majority that’s in control of the House of Representatives have been talking in their caucus meetings, their get-togethers where they plot strategy and talk about the moves they’re going to make. And they’ve been asking each other, “Well, what do we do about Eastman, if anything?”

Casey Grove: As far as you’ve been able to gather, what are they talking about doing? I guess there’s kind of a range of options, up to trying to maybe kick him out of the Legislature and all the way down to, like you said, maybe nothing.

JB: Right, there’s six main options that they’re looking at, and it includes just holding an investigation, asking him questions and looking into the Oath Keepers. A non-binding vote of disapproval, what they call the “sense of the House.” It’s basically just an opinion poll among members of the House taken in public, saying what people think about a particular issue. They could pass legislation, or try to pass legislation, related to the disloyalty clause. That clause has has no state laws attached to it. It just has the constitutional language right now. So how that clause would be implemented is still up in the air. They could remove Eastman from legislative committees. He would still stay a member of the Legislature, but he would be less able to participate in particular bills. That’s happened in discipline cases before on other issues. They could cut his staff. They could formally censure him, which is basically a letter of disapproval that’s voted on by everybody in the Legislature. Or, as you said, they could seek to expel him from the Legislature altogether. That’s the most extreme option, and it’s never happened for a member of the House in the state of Alaska.

CG: You wrote in the story that you published that you have asked Rep. Eastman if he’s heard about these discussions that are going on. In one instance, it sounded like he sort of disappeared into a crowd of other legislators. You also approached him at his office, and how did that go?

JB: Yeah, I tried to get him after the State of the State address, when I knew he was in the audience and I could talk to him. He said only, “No,” that he hadn’t heard about those talks, and he walked away, and I wasn’t able to catch up with him because the halls were crowded. So I went back the next day, when I knew he was in his office and tried to ask him those questions. And he said that, based on the question I had asked him the day before, he was not inclined to answer any of my questions. I tried anyway. I asked him a few others, but he just walked into his office and shut the door. So that was that. I should also add a little bit of historical context here, too, that Eastman even before this has been a controversial figure in the Legislature. Remember, back in 2017, he became the first member of the state House ever censured, ever to get a formal vote of disapproval, after he claimed that some rural Alaskans deliberately get pregnant, so that they can have free trips to urban cities in order to get abortions. And the state House voted by a fairly wide margin, 25 to 14, to censure him for that.

CG: I kind of wonder about the interpretation of this old law. It seems like it’s very open to interpretation, that clause that you mentioned.

JB: Right. I think it’s important to note that this clause of the state Constitution, as far as I can tell, there’s no case law. It’s never come up in court. There’s no statutes, no state law implementing it. So it’s really up to the Legislature to interpret, and then potentially the courts to interpret in the lawsuits that come out of that interpretation, and decide whether they’re correct or not.

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Casey Grove is the host of Alaska News Nightly and a general assignment reporter at Alaska Public Media with an emphasis on crime and courts. Reach him at cgrove@alaskapublic.org.

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